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Here's how one Port Coquitlam school is working to change its transportation culture

Bike to School Week is coming May 31 to June 4. One Port Coquitlam school is working to change its transportation culture, one pedal stroke at a time.
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School counsellor Mark Francis is hoping to see the racks in front of Westwood elementary filled with bikes when the school participates in HUB Cycling's Bike to School Week, May 31 - June 4.

There’s nothing Mark Francis would like more than to see the bike racks in front of Port Coquitlam’s Westwood elementary chock full of two-wheelers when students and staff participate in Bike to School Week, May 31 to June 4.

Not only would that mean he’d have company on his daily bike commute to and from the school where he’s a counsellor, but it also might make his job a little easier.

As the guy charged with caring for the mental, physical and emotional well-being of the students attending Westwood, Francis is a firm believer in the valuable role active transportation can have in helping attain an even keel.

It’s worked for him.

Francis said he started riding the five kilometres from his home to school three years ago, when his wife and he decided to scale back to just one car. He quickly found his mood changing for the better as he pedalled to work and then back home again at the end of the day.

“It helps me process what I’ve left behind,” Francis said. “I’m a much happier person.”

So much so, in fact, even a crash early into his bike commuting endeavour that kept him off the saddle for several months, didn’t discourage him. As soon as he could, he threw his leg back over the top bar again and perched his shoes back atop the pedals.

Francis rides every day, in the rain, snow and sunshine. His bike parked in his office has become an attraction for the students, who take delight in pointing it out as they pass by in the hallway. If only they would embrace the sport as much as he has, he said.

“They just don’t have the culture of it.”

Getting kids onto bikes isn’t always that easy, said Bryn Williams, Westwood’s principal.

Some families in the neighbourhood — that’s bounded by the Lougheed Highway, Westwood Street and the Coquitlam River — can’t afford bikes for the kids. Others worry about the traffic, especially with another school just down the street that can create quite a bit of chaos when they both convene and let out at the same time each day.

But, Williams added, initiatives like HUB Cycling’s Bike to School Week and cycling safety programs put on by the school district can help punch through those barriers. He said the Westwood community has been quick to embrace efforts to encourage active transportation, with its parents’ advisory council on board and the school’s gym filling with bikes and scooters as kids compete for prizes and indulge in treats like freezies and popsicles.

That’s music to the ears of HUB’s engagement manager, Madeleine Service.

“Bike to School Week brings communities together and fosters school culture during a unique and challenging time,” she said of the cycling advocacy group’s first stab at holding the event semi-annually instead of just once a school year — the previous event was last September.

In addition to Westwood Elementary, six other schools in the Tri-Cities have officially registered their participation, 110 across the Metro Vancouver region.

“We are so delighted to see the growth,” Service said.

But converting those kids riding to school to win a prize during a special event to regular junior commuters will take a sustained effort of modelling an active lifestyle, reinforcing its benefits and assuring parents they can do it safely as part of the school day routine as well as away from school.

“We just have to be relentless,” said Francis.

• For more information about Bike to School Week, go to www.bikehub.ca.

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